The sun had just set as I entered the park and Venus was shineing brightly in the east. There was no one at the entrance to collect the $10 fee but a sign read "Station Closed Park Open" so I started on down the lonely 40 mile road.

 Only a half a dozen cars passed me on their way out. Lights shining brightly as we met  along the two lane highway.

 When I reached the marina  fortyfive minutes later it appeared recently abandoned as if everyone had just left for the night. I stopped at the ranger station to fill out the papers for a back country pass. I had originally planned on being in the park much earlier in the day and miles down the coast by sundown but work and responsibilities had kept me in the city  longer than I'd hoped and I'd been forced to change my plan. . The prudent thing to do at this point would be to camp in the public campground and head out in the morning but the half moon was bright and conditions were calm so I got the canoe in the water, loaded my gear, secured the truck and headed on down the coast. I was the only boat on the water.

  It was beautiful on the bay. The bright moon lit up the mangrove shore line and chocolate brown water of Florida Bay. Conditions were calm and flat with just a hint of a cool breeze from the west. 

  I made my way steadily down the coast for maybe two hours,  stopping occasionally to listen or have a smoke. I eventually noticed that a another boat was out on the water.They were still a good way behind me, back towards the marina, but they were slowly catching up with me and they seemed dangerously close to shore. Its one thing to travel through this shallow water in a canoe were I only need a few inches of draft; its another with an outboard motor that requires some clearance and can do more damage.

  Rock and Roll was blasting from the boat as it gained on me. I was using my new $32 portable running lights on the canoe. It had seemed a good idea earlier but now I was concerned that I might be leading other boaters into a potentially dangerous situation. I also felt totally exposed also. With the music blastin and their prop bottoming out I had to wonder who it was that was creepin up behind me."The Hell with this" I doused my running lights and slid the canoe in behind some drift wood. It was still kinda exposed in the moonlight so I grabbed my emergency pack and headed off into the shadows of some near by trees. I crouched there as the boat went slowly by.They flashed the shore with a light briefly but they missed my general area. I heard someone say "I lost him " and then a short time later " well if he don't wanna talk" and they passed on by my hideout. A short time later they rounded a point and and I could hear the motor throttle up as they sped off.

  I stepped out onto the narrow beach and scratched my head. They may have been park rangers out checking up on me but I had no real idea who they were.   I rolled a smoke and waited patiently for the out board  motor to fad off into the distance. Finally, I slid the canoe gently back in the water and took off. I stayed close to shore in among the shadows. As I approached the near by point the setting moon back lit the tall trees. The water was still  and reflecting. It was a prehistoric image.

  I only paddled a bit farther. I had a general idea of were I was but nothing exact. I pulled up on a stretch of beach and stepped out to look for a good tent site . I glanced to my left and had to smile. Standing there as plan as day, like an old friend, was a familiar tree. One I had admired and photographed before and best of all  I knew that a great tent site was only twenty paces down the beach.

  I snapped a picture the next morning. It's my favorite of the tree so far but I can't help but think there's an even better picture of it waiting to be take.

  The reason I'd been in such a hurry to get down the coast, besides just wanting to be free of everything, was I had a plan for day two. I wanted to visit some of the  inland marsh area. I had been there before on two occasions but was just getting familiar with it and there was a lot more to explore.

  Access to the marsh land is gained through either the main (man made) canal or several naturally occurring channels.The last time I'd tried to get into the area I'd had the tide working against me. I had finally broke free of its pull a mile up stream but it had been an incredible amount of work. This time the incoming tide worked to my favor and helped to get me inland. 


 I soon left the familiar behind and ventured into new territory. In addition to my chart a friend had printed out some Google satellite images for me. Even so it was a confusing landscape of small mangrove islands and shallow small bays and I ended up following a compass heading more than any particular land mark. As I worked my way further Northwest into the top end of the marsh things got quite beautiful.


The thing about trying to capture wildlife photos with a cheap disposable camera is that the subject matter usually leaves long before you get close enough to get a good image. This is especially true of the birds in ENP. A thousand images are in my head.  Lost opportunities for magnificent pictures.

  Here, deep in the back country, the large wading birds seemed a bit less quick at taking to flight. I approached the Spoonbill slowly  my camera in hand.. Before I could snap a shot it took to the air, making a short swoop to another tree 30 yards away. "Crap"!  I didn't give up though and as I approached the spoon a second time I spoke softly and said what came naturally. "Hey there Bubba, mind if I take your picture"? The Spoonbill seemed to strike a pose. I took two quick pictures and then said "Thank you my friend" To which the bird  reacted with a surprised  look and a little squawk. I have no question the bird understood the basic sentiment of my words. I know it's a bit crazy but I've made it a habit to ask permission when taking close up pics. It's a courtesy I'd give to most humans and these guys are at least deserving of that respect.

  Even so, the picture has poor resolution and is still to far away. The most basic SLR camera with a moderate telephoto lens would bring in a spectacular image. Such is the cross I bear.

I was lost. Well maybe not lost. I just didn't know where I was. It was getting later in the afternoon and I was concerned about getting out before dark. It was to late to retreat back the way I'd came ; so I was committed to finding the small canal at the north end of the marsh. Even if it meant spending a long night in the canoe.  When I reach the far northwest end of the marsh I was able to find my position on the map and realized I was one bay north of were I needed to be.I back tracked a half mile and worked my way south. After crossing a long open bay I started poking my nose into every corner searching for the canal. With every failure I continued following the shore to the northwest and finally it paid off. I entered the canal with the out going tide.

  What a rush! The tide flow was strong and I was pulled swiftly along the canal.  As I approached the first bend the canal widened out a bit and there were obvious sighs this was a crocodile area.  I manage to snap this shot. Twenty seconds later I was in HIGH PANIC MODE!


 The large croc never moved. That struck me as odd. In my limited experience crocodiles have always been quick to take to the water. I believe perhaps she was asleep and just never realized I was sliding by.


  As I approached a second bend a large tree limb presented itself. It stretched the full width of the canal. I aimed for the the thinner end but slammed into it and the strong current quickly spun the canoe parallel against the branch. The canoe listed dangerously and threatened to take on water . I put my full weight on the downstream side, flattening out the canoe, and hung onto the branch in desperation. It's times like these that bring whole new meaning to "living in the moment" Everything developed in slow motion. I'd solved the immediate problem and kept  the canoe from going under but I found myself in a precarious, almost comical, situation stuck up against the tree branch. I moved back and forth in the boat tryin to straighten it out but with nothing good to grab onto I couldn't  gain leverage and I just wasn't making it.

  I jumped for the bank.The underbrush was heavily trampled in this spot. You could tell this was a virtual Grand Central Station for crocodiles. I reached back and managed to get a hand on the bow of the canoe and pulled it towards me. Standing there in knee deep water with  the current rushing  I managed to get the canoe pointed down stream. I took a moment to glance nervously over my shoulder to see if I was on the menu. Apparently not. I shoved the front of the canoe into the head of the tree. Reaching back I grabbed another hand hold and shove 3/4 of the boat through. One more push and the boat was on the other side. I dragged myself through the tangle of branches , slid belly first back into the canoe and headed down stream. Happy to be alive.


  A few more twists and turns and I  could see lake Ingraham at the end of the canal. I stopped paddling and let the current carry me down to the lake. Two boats were anchored near the mouth of the canal  and as I exited into the big lake I nodded hello. It seemed like a good time to say something of significance in light of my experience only minutes early but all I could muster was a " Man there's some big crocodiles up in there !".  to which one man replied "I bet there are."  I headed across the short distance to the outlet into the Gulf of Mexico and made for the beach.

  The weather had changed. The Gulf was kicked up and rain clouds threatened in the west.  A strong blustery wind was blowing in off the water. With an hour or so of daylight left I took sometime to relax . I felt a strong sense of accomplishment with the day. I had done what I had set out to do and my adventures in the fast moving water of the crocodile redoubt felt like a right of passage. I watched in amazement as  a dozen tarpon patrolled the rough surf two feet from shore. All was well. 

 After an espresso I got the boat and my gear up above the high tide line. I smoothed out a sandy area well back from the  water and set my tent up. The wind was starting to howl and I had a difficult time. Once up though my timberline tent is pretty good in the wind and a few extra steaks and some gear inside helped to keep things stable.

  I gathered some fire wood, careful to only use downed dead wood well back from the beach. The drift wood is one of the things that gives the Cape it's unique feeling and there is no need to break majestic looking branches when there is plenty of better downed wood around.  I started  a small fire and got my dinner of hamburger helper started. It was then that I reached into the cooler and took out the first of my two Guinness beers. Never has a cold beer tasted so good. After dinner I enjoyed my other beer as I sat watching the ominous dark clouds blow in off the Gulf. Finally, exhausted, I headed for bed.


 got up at dawn and stumbled around making espresso and rolling a cigarette. The sun would soon break the horizon and I search for a good vantage point. I ended up lying on the wet sand and seashells and took the above shot. Not spectacular but ok. I was already keeping a close eye on the number of shots I had left and was trying to use them wisely.

  With the sun up. I broke camp and carefully loaded up the canoe. The first fishermen were arriving as I hit the water and the incoming tide shot me across the inlet and into lake Ingraham. I stayed close to the western shore of the lake in the shallow water. The wind and tide were in my favor and I spent a nice three hours or so covering the eight mile length of the lake. I explored a few of the small inlets off the lake and stopped once to make a quick espresso.


 At the south end of the lake there is a small channel, just big enough and deep enough for a canoe to slide through. Most boat traffic uses the main canal and I would eventually join it on my way back to the coast  but my short cut was just that ...shorter and it was far more picturesque.

  I slid into the shade of an overhanging mangrove to take a break. I got a brief glimpse of a boat as it sped behind a point and then  I heard the boat stop just on the other side of the point. I do not believe they knew  I was there and I could hear their conversation as well as if they were in the next room.That's not the first time that's happened to me and it just shows that you may think your alone out here in the wilderness when your really not.

 A half an hour later I was exiting the main canal and back on Florida Bay.  My campsite for the night was east but I  turned west and headed for East Cape. Just this side of the actual Cape is an unnamed spot that serves as a haven for all types of sea birds.  From little Terns to huge Pelicans. A small stream empties into the bay and forms a sand bar that juts out and makes a wide curve. It's a great place to spend the afternoon.  

   Tired from paddling I was happy to rest in the shade for several hours. I messed around taking a few photos. Carefull not to waste my precious few. I decided to stick around for sunset and then head back east. I organized my stuff and got most of it loaded in the canoe. I didn't want to have to mess with gear in the  dark. I still had an hour or more to wait so I started a small fire and began cooking dinner. Macaroni and cheese with ham. 

  I was surprised to see two guys walking across the beach towards me. They had just arrived by canoe and were looking to camp out.  We talked for awhile. I told them I was just waiting for sunset and then was going to leave. I also told them that East Cape and the Gulf were just around the corner and that I liked were we were a bit better. It had more wildlife and better opportunities for pics.  I  understood their desire to round the Cape though after coming so far. After exploring the sand bar they struck out for East Cape. 

 With my sunset photo taken I hit the water before all the light faded. The two canoeist were headed back towards me. I guess they decided they liked the original spot better. I felt bad for them. As nice as the spot is it's backed up against mangrove and once the sun goes down the mosquitoes come out in force. They were already thick when I left and it wasn't going to get better for several hours. It's for exactly this reason I try to have my tent  set up before  dark when possible. There are a lot of steps you can take to minimize the impact of skeetoes but a good tent is a must. 

   I didn't wait to speak with the two guys. I felt bad that I may have sold them on this campsite without informing them of the possible nightmare. For that I apologize.

  The light of the day faded behind me. With the moon hidden behind a cloud cover it was a bit different than two nights before. The next days forecast called for strong winds out of the east and having twice walked eight miles through Florida Bay because of high wind I was happy to put some miles behind me in the night time calm.

  After perhaps two hours of paddling I was just off shore from my "permitted " campsite. The sky was clearing though and with the moon shining bright and condition so nice I decided to continue on to the next and last campsite before Flamingo . I doubted if anyone would be camped there and I didn't think anyone would care.

 A half hour later I pulled up on the beach to look for a good tent site. I walked 50 yards down the narrow beach and then spied in the dark a small tent and a canoe. All was quiet and the occupants were apparently sleeping. I thought about setting up at the far end of the beach but I didn't want to infringe on their space so I quietly shoved off and continued on. 

 With no more good campsites along the coast until Flamingo I decided to just go all the way. It had been a fantastic trip. I could not have asked for more.

 However the universe had one more surprise for me.

  There is a small key (island) roughly a mile and a half from Flamingo campground. It has a name but the kids and I affectionately renamed it Tak-A Pee island.  When I reach this point I know I'm on the home stretch .   I continued passed TAK-A-PEE and headed out into the final large shallow bay. about half way across and a thousand yards from the nearest shore I stopped to rest and have a smoke. It was beautiful out and I knew I'd be in camp in thirty minutes.

   As I sat there in the canoe I heard a slight" woosh "of air and glancing to my right I saw  a snout disappear beneath the surface. "That was interesting " I thought casually. I took another puff off my cigarette. "hmmmm it seems like I'm not quit floating free" I thought, "why is the water turning cloudy"?

WHAM!!!  The canoe lurched 2 inches up out of the water and I was drenched by a geyser of water. SPLASH!!! a second geyser erupted . My hair was soaked, my eyes were full of salt water and a soggy cigarette was hanging from my lips.  I said to myself "  AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!  and paddled as hard and as fast as I could. "Never again, never again, never again"!!!  My heart was racing and my only desire was to get  close to some kinda shore.

 Five minutes later I had calmed down and was kinda laughing to myself. You came for adventure so don't complain. At the moment it happened I had no idea what was going on but after a little reflecting I believe I just gently floated up onto some sleeping Manatees. Scaring them as much as they scared me.  It was a great way to end the trip.

 I was soon at Flamingo. I set my tent up by the moon and got a great nights sleep. Early the next morning I took my last photo and headed home.